INDEPENDENCE — J.J. Hickson is back in the fold, but Daniel Gibson is now out and Anderson Varejao is among a handful of other ailing players.
The one constant is the Cavaliers (8-27) are still playing lousy basketball, especially at the defensive end, as they begin a five-game western road trip tonight against the Golden State Warriors.
Cleveland has lost eight straight and 18 of its last 19, with its last road victory coming on Nov. 9. That does not bode well for a team that will follow tonight’s game with road contests against Phoenix, the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah and Denver.
“This five-game road trip is as tough as they come,” coach Byron Scott said Thursday following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “We need everybody to play well on this trip.”
Unfortunately for the Cavs, everyone won’t be playing, though the struggling Hickson, who did not see action Wednesday against Toronto because he failed to show up for a Monday workout, is expected to be back in the rotation against the Warriors.
“We’re not clashing,” Scott said. “He missed a practice and he didn’t play (Wednesday) night. He understood you’re not going to get rewarded for missing practice. He cheered his teammates on. He was terrific today in practice.”
Gibson, considered the team’s best perimeter defender by Scott, did not accompany the Cavs on the trip. He’ll miss all five games with a sprained left ankle suffered in the third quarter against Toronto. That came after he had missed the previous two games with a bruised thigh.
“He’s one of our toughest guys, mentally as well as physically,” Scott said. “That 6-2, 6-3 frame of his packs a wallop at both ends of the floor. We’re going to have to make up for it.”
Undrafted rookie Manny Harris, who has had more downs than ups, will start in Gibson’s place. Another rookie, Alonzo Gee, who was just signed on Dec. 28, will likely get the nod at small forward if Anthony Parker’s back causes him to miss any more games.
Meanwhile, veteran big man Leon Powe did not travel due to a bruised right knee and will undergo further examinations today at the Cleveland Clinic, while starting center Varejao sprained his ankle in practice and is listed as questionable for tonight.
Right now, the only certainty is that Antawn Jamison will start at power forward tonight and Harris will get the nod in the backcourt alongside Mo Williams.
“He’s a rookie,” Williams said of Harris. “He’s going to have his ups and downs. He plays hard. That’s one thing you can’t teach. He’s only going to get better.”
One would think that would also be the case for the Cavs as a team, since they can’t get much worse, but there are no guarantees or magic formulas.
Cleveland is 23rd in the league in points allowed (103.2), 27th in field goal percentage defense (.476) and 30th, or dead last, in 3-point percentage defense (.419).
“Guys have to start getting it,” Scott said. “That’s the No. 1 thing. We can deal with losing games. That’s part of basketball. I don’t think there’s a right way to lose games, but you’ve got to play the right way.”
The Cavs have rarely done that over the past month or so. Their guards have repeatedly gotten beat off the dribble and their defensive rotations have been abysmal.
“We can score enough points,” said Scott, whose team is 26th in the league in that department at 94.0 a night. “We’ve got to get stops at the defensive end.
“Sometimes our trust breaks down and our communication breaks down. Those two areas, we can get better at.”
The Cavs continue to work on those areas in practice, but it obviously hasn’t been carrying over to games.
“If our practices were games, we’d be undefeated,” Williams said. “We work extremely hard in practice. We communicate in practice. It just doesn’t carry over in games.”
Despite their current woes, the Cavs vow to keep working and attempting to improve at that end of the floor.
“That has to be our staple,” Scott said. “Those guys know that. I’m going to keep teaching it and preaching it.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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